Jurisprudence, University of Miami School of Law

II. Where does one find the Law?

2. Social Contracts

Plato, The Crito

This dialog takes place after the Apology, which details the trial and conviction (by vote of the citizens of Athens assembled) of Socrates for charges of heresy and, perhaps, general rabble-rousing. A subsequent and final dialog details how Socrates drank the poisoned hemlock and died.

While reading the Crito, it may be helpful to ask yourself:

  1. Given that Socrates has been condemned to die by majority vote, how does one explain his view that, on the one hand the opinions of the many are of little weight when compared to that of the wise and good; but on the other hand he should abide by the majority's judgment?
  2. Suppose Socrates were young. Would his arguments apply with the same force?
  3. One way to read the dialog is to see a turning point in Crito's initial concession: Crito concedes that it is always wrong to do an evil thing whatever the provocation. As Socrates notes, "
    this opinion has never been held, and never will be held, by any considerable number of persons; and those who are agreed and those who are not agreed upon this point have no common ground, and can only despise one another when they see how widely they differ.
    . Assuming Socrates is correct about this, does the rest of his argument have any application to the majority of us who do believe in doing a lesser evil to forestall a greater one? And if not, why would Socrates make an argument that a wise philosopher like him must know is inapplicable to most?
  4. We can read this text as a kind of direct philosophy, or we can read this while remembering that this is a dialog. In the latter view, Socrates (a character in Plato's writing) is speaking to Crito (another character of Plato's). Conceivably, Socrates is speaking for Crito's benefit -- and as is clear from the dialog, Crito is little more than a rich, bourgeois, foil for Socrates. Could it be that Socrates is setting out a philosophy that he believes is the right one for the Crito-like, i.e. those whose moral and philosophical judgment is not of the highest? If so, why would Socrates choose to allow himself to remain in captivity?

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